Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, speaks in Pampanga, December 2016.
Erik de Castro / Reuters

Rodrigo Duterte’s trip to Beijing in October marked the first visit of a Filipino president to China since 2011. During his tour, Duterte shocked the world by announcing that his country would “separate” from its long-time ally, the United States, and “realign” with China. Even before this pronouncement, the Filipino president’s brutal drug war, badmouthing of U.S. President Barack Obama, and general hostility toward the United States had made many in Washington—and elsewhere—view him as a headache.

Although Duterte’s erratic, populist persona has unnerved leaders on both sides of the Pacific, he is not the crackpot he is sometimes made to seem. Rather, when it comes to foreign policy, he is a rational statesman with a keen sense of his country’s interests. Duterte’s move toward China is a calculated risk, and he is more interested in securing economic gains for the Philippines than

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  • JESSICA C. LIAO is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at North Carolina State University.
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